Editors’ note: The Six-Day War, the fiftieth anniversary of which takes place this month, was a major watershed in Middle Eastern history. This was the second time in a generation that Israel routed a numerically and materially superior all-Arab war coalition, and it did so in a far swifter fashion than in 1948. On June 4, 1967, the ecstatic Arab leaders were prophesying Israel’s imminent destruction and promising their subjects the spoils of victory; a week later, they were reconciling themselves to a staggering military defeat, the loss of vast territories, and sharp international humiliation. The Summer 2017 Middle East Quarterly sheds fresh light on three key aspects of the war: its inevitability, its historiographical portrayal, and its lasting consequences.
It has long been conventional wisdom to view the June 1967 war as an accidental conflagration that neither Arabs nor Israelis desired, yet none were able to prevent. Had Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser not fallen for a false Soviet warning of Israeli troop concentrations along the Syrian border and deployed his forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the standard narrative runs, the slippery slope to war would have been averted altogether; had Israel not misconstrued the Egyptian grandstanding for a mortal threat to its national security, if not its very survival, it would have foregone the preemptive strike that started the war. In short, it was a largely accidental and unnecessary war born of mutual miscalculations and misunderstandings.
This view could not be further from the truth. If wars are much like road accidents, as the British historian A.J.P. Taylor famously quipped, having a general cause and particular causes at the same time, then the June 1967 war was anything but accidental. Its specific timing resulted of course from the convergence of a number of particular causes at a particular juncture. But its general cause—the total Arab rejection of Jewish statehood, starkly demonstrated by the concerted attempt to destroy the state of Israel at birth and the unwavering determination to rectify this “unfinished business”—made another all-out Arab-Israeli war a foregone conclusion.
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